Transporting pipes: all-round services that take care of everything

A great deal of care is necessary when handling pipes. Rhenus Maritime Services demonstrated this recently in a project for its customer, Europipe. We explain what makes transport services for pipes successful and which challenges and success factors have to be kept in mind.

A large pile of green pipes in front of a neatly stacked wall of pipes

Rhenus Maritime Services provided a top logistics performance for the global shipment of pipes using multimodal services in its recent project. Rhenus managed to make available the pipes required for the construction of the LNG pipeline in the “Eagle Mountain – Woodfibre Gas Pipeline” project within 70 days. This involved transporting 3,600 pipes, each of them weighing 4 – 6 tonnes, from Bremen to Squamish in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Rhenus was responsible for every detail in the supply chain – as you can read in the case study here.

One pipe is not the same as another

There are many factors that need to be taken into account for specialist pipe transport services. Apart from significant differences in the shape and weight of the pipes, the purpose, for which the pipes will be used, is very important too: how might the ground, in which the pipes are placed, possibly behave? What kind of pressure ratios exist there and what is the interrelationship between them and the material that will be transported through the pipes? In addition to these factors, different types of surface treatment, which provide protection against corrosion, make the pipes more or less sensitive to vibration or contact with other materials. The integrity of the material that is being transported is the absolute top priority when it comes to pipelines. Regardless of whether it is natural gas, oil or – in the case of the Europipe project – LNG: complex and long construction times, strict regulatory requirements and building work at remote sites mean that the professional and time-efficient handling of the pipes is absolutely essential.


Don’t see them rollin’: doing everything to secure the load

Special procedural descriptions stipulate precisely how the material needing to be transported has to be handled or stored and what kind of equipment must be used when transporting the pipes. The safety and integrity of the cargo is guaranteed by following these standardised regulations and the correct solutions are identified to secure the load.

However, the critical issues that need to be considered vary considerably from one means of transport to another.


  • So-called ropes – which are a kind of plastic cord and are placed about the pipes at regular intervals and ensure that the clearance to the adjacent pipe is the same – can  be used so that the pipes do not suffer any damage while in transit. This can provide additional protection for pipes with a sensitive coating, such as the hard polymer coating for Europipe’s LNG pipeline tubes.
  • So-called pipe troughs provide support specifically when transporting the units by truck. They ensure that the pipes are secure and cannot roll off to one side. Tensioning straps, pipe braces and pipe brackets are other tools used to restrain the pipes that lie on top of each other.
    The procedural description determines how many pipes can be placed on top of each other when transporting and storing them.
  • Using special pipe hooks, which are attached to cranes, it is finally possible to carefully tranship the pipes from one means of transport to another.

Transporting pipes – watertight even out at sea

A man observing four pipes being loaded with a crane

One of the most important considerations when transporting pipes by sea is selecting the suitable ship. Many vessels, which specialise in transporting bulk commodities, have a cargo hold with understow – that is to say, one part of the cargo hold is located away from the loading hatch area. Long, bulky parts such as pipes cannot be moved into this space so easily. In order to be able to lift pipes in and out again so that they remain straight and do not suffer any damage, the ship’s tonnage that is selected must not only be designed to handle the dimensions of the freight, but also ideally have a box-shaped layout – that is to say, it is straight and easily accessible.

Chartering a whole vessel with the correct configurations for a single load of pipes at times when cargo space is limited can therefore represent a real challenge.

In addition to its expertise, a reliable logistics partner must also have the correct resources and partners alongside in order to be able to meet the requirements for the complex transport operation. Thanks to its many years of experience and ideal networking between the Rhenus units around the world, it was not a problem for Rhenus Maritime Services to be on the spot with the right vessel at the right time – even if, as was the case with the Europipe project, the journey involved a destination that was remote and not frequently visited by ships.

From Bremen to Squamish: 3,600 pipes in 70 days

Well organised from A to Z: the transport management plan

Once all the stipulations have been defined and the specifications for the cargo are known, the full-service provider, which specialises in transporting pipes, draws up a transport management plan. Customers receive a copy of this even before the agreement is signed in order to obtain a rough idea of all the means of transport, the precise route and the planned equipment.

Professional companies, which transport pipes, always keep their eye on the current situation regarding global transport routes when drawing up the transport management plan. Environmental phenomena, such as low water levels and the frequency of services on the selected route, can also upset the carefully prepared plan – or political conflicts, which may cause restrictions on the navigability of waterways. However, that is not the whole story.

The pick-up and final delivery transport services by road require a precise inspection of the routes on the spot. This then guarantees that no unexpected obstacle can block the route or there is a bend that is too tight along the road. Special permits often have to be obtained in this connection to give the go-ahead for complex transport services through a town or along a public road – after all, shipments of pipes on tractor/trailer units can quickly become 25 metres long or even longer. This also raises the question of whether the logistics specialist that has been selected has the correct equipment and expertise and has good local networks in order to be able to reliably handle these kinds of challenges for the customer’s benefit.

Everything under control?

Rhenus Maritime Services assessed all these aspects and possible scenarios in a very precise manner for the Europipe project. Everything was prepared in the form of an all-embracing transport management plan, ranging from making the ship available to arrangements with the authorities for the truck transport services and even inspecting the circumstances in the locality. This was an all-encompassing concept, which the customer then simply had to sign.

If all the possible scenarios have been precisely considered in advance and the relevant time and capacities have been planned, there is no longer anything to stop the pipes from being delivered on time. But what happens if unforeseen obstacles threaten to disrupt the plan? The experience gained when transporting the pipes for Europipe with regard to the Panama Canal, which is affected by shallow water levels, demonstrated that communication is the key. Thanks to providing information at an early stage – for example, regarding the fact that the delivery could possibly be delayed due to restricted navigability on this section of the route – the customer remained informed at all times.

One complete solution provides reassurance right down the line

Not much should really go wrong when transporting pipes – transporting the material along the correct route, using the suitable means of transport, having the relevant equipment and the necessary foresight – provided that customers opt for a competent logistics specialist, which focuses on the specifications of the cargo and the customer’s requirements in a very precise manner from start to finish. Despite careful preparation work and communications, the crucial element for you as a customer is that your pipes arrive on time, in an undamaged state and you are spared any worries.

As you can read in greater detail in our case study, Rhenus’ expertise in transporting pipes was not the only factor that made the crucial difference, but also the excellent networking between its various business units all over the world in this trailblazing example for the “Eagle Mountain – Woodfibre Gas Pipeline” project. The result of the project speaks for itself: 3,600 pipes arrived in Squamish in the same perfect state as they left Bremen – and within 70 days20 days faster than the timeline that had been set.

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